Channel 4

Building Instruments for Hiscox Channel 4 Sponsorship

Words by Paul Sumpter, Monday 16 Oct 2017


We’ve just delivered music, sound-design and full audio-post on a series of stunning idents and bumpers from Academy, AMV BBDO and visual lighting pioneers Another Space (Jay-Z, U2, James Blake, Massive Attack, Coldplay). The idents will provide Hiscox sponsorship for Best Laid Plans on Channel 4 / All4.

Our role included building, performing and recording fully custom instruments to create a beguiling bespoke soundscape to accompany the lighting design for the broadcasts. We did this both with physical materials and with software to create sounds that we could place under our fingers to perform a truly unique and ‘ownable’ soundtrack.

The thread we wanted to carry across the music and sound-design were sounds that felt almost tactile – like you could almost touch and feel the inherent quality of the materials that are making the sounds

This was born out of the idea of sonically embodying the construction process by using parts that enter simultaneously as certain elements of the light sequence do, we can echo the metaphorical build in the same way a piece of music is built from various elements – some heavy, some light etc. Likewise, where we opted to use more conventional instruments, we performed with them or modified them slightly so as again to give them depth and elevate them away from a one-dimensional or ‘obvious’ / throwaway nature.

One example of this would be in the piano sound. We performed the delicate top line on an Una Corda – a bespoke type of piano that places various materials between the hammer of the piano and the string itself. By experimenting with different materials, you can produce very soft intimate notes, or quite spiky percussive ones, to suit the needs of the piece.

We hand-built four main instruments and deep-sampled countless other props and materials which we then used to create virtual instruments. Of the four, we used a variety of suspended metal implements including a hex key glockenspiel, a series of timber joists performed with soft mallets, wall strip reinforcers of various lengths for various pitches and two cinematic sounding gong-like cymbals – one from an air vent panel and another from a re-purposed plasterer’s tray. These would provide a wonderfully rich quality to the sounds, which when coupled with special microphone techniques such as contact mics (microphones that pick up internal vibrations of the materials themselves rather than sound vibrations carried through the air), meant we could produce some totally unique, beautiful yet on brief performances.

We also built instruments out of unusual sources such as a ‘prepared’ cimbalom (ours is a 50 year old type of Chinese zither). By placing various items that vibrated and rattled on the strings, and using an electric perpetual bow (called an E-bow, usually used with guitar), we created some gorgeous evolving drones and pitched tones that we could again load into our samplers to use as fantastic source material to process and shape into performable musical instruments. Here are a handful of examples of the kind of sounds we created – first the unprocessed, unshaped raw audio recordings followed by some of the instruments and riffs we designed we built out of them:

We combined all this building, with a technique called ‘convolution’. This is a process whereby you take one sound and ‘push’ it through another. The effect is, the sound takes on qualities of each of the two constituent sounds. So for example you can make a lawn mower sound like it is singing, or a guitar sound like a drum. On one sound we pushed the starting melodic phrase through an impulse of us thumbing through a yellow pages, again as this gave the sound a unique material-like quality – very hands-on. We use this technique a lot as, as well as it being super-creative, it represents a nice balance between something that is familiar and recognisable with something that is new and intriguing on the ear.

We delivered six 5 second bumpers as well as a 15 second intro and 10 second outro. Here’s a selection of the work.


Credits Agency: AMV BBDO / Creative Directors: Andre Hull & Clark Edwards / Producers: Darapen Vongsa-Nga & Ash Lockman / Production Company: Academy / Director: Another Space / Edit: The Assembly Rooms Visual Post: NineteenTwenty / Music: The Futz Butler / Sound-Design & Audio Post: The Futz Butler

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Founder & Creative Director

Monday 16 Oct 2017

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